Saturday, August 27, 2011

Teacher Accountability

Michael Lopez makes some good points here:
You should be able to see where this is going now: in order for teachers to be "accountable" in the way I discussed yesterday, they need to have a duty to produce student achievement. That would be all fine and dandy if the students were beanstalks or 1974 Pontiac engines or some other sort of insentient matter. But the students are autonomous, sentient agents. They get to make their own decisions (in a strong, narrow sense) and their learning is, in great part, up to them. It is not entirely in the teachers' power...

Teachers can manipulate students in various ways -- they can coerce, cajole, coax, conspire, and a whole host of other words that don't begin with "c". Teachers can attempt to make learning easier. They can attempt to demonstrate the worth of their subject. They can try to make it entertaining. They can be the best teachers in the world, but the final decision as to whether there will be any learning of the subject at hand isn't up to the teacher.

So why would we expect a teacher to be "accountable" for student results, or the improvement of student achievement? Why would a teacher promise such a thing, even implicitly, and why on earth would any administrator accept such a promise?

It seems likely to me that most teachers never made any such promise, and don't view themselves as having made that promise. This is why you see so much push-back from teachers on issues of accountability. It's not that they don't want to be good employees and good teachers, or that they are lazy or unmotivated. It's that the promise for which enforcement is being sought in the name of "accountability" isn't one that they think is either realistic or legitimate.
If he's wrong, what is his error?

17 comments:

mazenko said...

He nailed it.

You think any education reformers who are not teachers will agree? Do you think Michelle Rhee would agree? Would anyone who blames the teachers union for everything agree?

Fat chance. It's easier to blame unions and tenure.

Left Coast Ref said...

The blame that falls on Unions is because they think their members can do no wrong. They say they care about education but what they mean is "We care about salaries for Teachers". As a teacher, I to care about salaries, but I understand that bad teachers exist and there should be a way to remove them from the system. If someone is identified as a bad teacher, then give them direction to improve (note: not 'improve their students test scores. See 'Testing controversy, Atlanta' if you need more proof). And if they don't in 2 years (due process, right?) then hit the road Jack or Jackie. I would hope Ms. Rhee, and any other reformer would see that true education reform must include accountability from (to use a buzzword in accreditation) "All Stakeholders", especially Parents and Students.

mazenko said...

LCR - you would hope, but you would be naive. Look no further than Atlanta. Why would teacher's cheat? Because a commitment - from people like Rhee - to tests which are high stakes for teachers and zero stakes for students. Do I condone what they did? Heck no. Do I believe people like Rhee and NCLB caused it. Of course.

You can T-off on unions all you like - but the original post is more correct. And, by the way, I am not a union teacher. However, teachers are probationary for three years. And after that they simply request due process for removal. How can you possibly argue that someone who is satisfactory and rehired for three yeas could suddenly go rogue.

Keep in mind that education has self-selecting attrition. You might argue that poor teachers never leave the profession. But you'd be naive. 60% of new teachers leave the profession in the first three years. The rest only keep their jobs because administrators give them satisfactory reviews. And if you think that's the union's fault, you are blind to the tens of thousands of teachers who are asked to sign off on evaluations each year even though the principal NEVER observed them.

It's a management problem, LCR.

Darren said...

You think Rhee and NCLB caused teachers in Atlanta to sit around erasing and changing answers? That's just sick.

Peter Reilly said...

Don't know if this is a good analogy or not but people in sales are held accountable even though they have no ultimate control over their prospects. If you view teachers as sales people for their subjects then evaluating them on student success makes some sense. Of course you are stuck with the leads that the system provides you but that is true of some sales positions. I know somebody who runs a telemarketing operation and he made a rule that he would fire anybody who complained about getting lousy leads.

This is just an analogy that I am putting there.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Excellent commentary. Thanks for the head's up.

mazenko said...

No, I pointed out - as Steven Levitt did in Freakanomics - that the nature of these tests has created a situation where people would feel the most pressure to and thus be most likely to cheat.

And, if you think there are simply people who cheat and people who don't, you'd be wrong as well. For, the most part there aren't honest and dishonest people. But people are inclined toward behavior based on context of the situation.

NCLB - and reformers like Rhee who put foolish faith in the value of these tests and the ability of "great teachers" teachers to get all students to perform - simply created a situation where some teachers felt overwhelming pressure to cheat.

And, if you agree with the original post as you do, and you know the research on man's inclination to cheat based on context, you would at least concede the point without dismissing it as sick.

Darren said...

"Do I believe people like Rhee and NCLB caused it. Of course."
"No, I pointed out - as Steven Levitt did in Freakanomics - that the nature of these tests has created a situation where people would feel the most pressure to and thus be most likely to cheat."

Those two statements are related but *not* equivalent.

We've heard about pockets of cheating here and there, Atlanta being the biggest. It isn't widespread, as one would expect if the test were causing it. And how, exactly, is Michelle Rhee causing cheating? We've had standardized testing for decades, and NCLB since 2001--long before her name meant anything to anyone but her family.

You're looking for an excuse here, something to buttress a dislike of standardized testing, but the horse you've hitched your wagon to is weak.

allen (in Michigan) said...

His error is in the implication that teaching skill is a myth and thus one teacher can have no more effect on learning then another teacher although I rather doubt it's an error. It's pretty hard to ignore the primary skill a professional's hired to demonstrate unless you've got an agenda which precludes the existence of that skill.

Nonsense of course - that teaching skill can't have an effect on student learning - but important nonsense. The importance of downplaying teaching skill is necessitated by the indifference to teaching skill of the public education system.

First there are all the teachers working in public education who've come to terms with the fact that their skills are immaterial to the institution that employs them.

It can't be a very easy accommodation to accept that the skill you anticipate putting to use is of essentially no importance. It can't be a very easy accommodation if you've got any pride. For some new teachers of course it'll be easy because they don't care about teaching and know they're no good at it. But then no one cares so it works out for them. From the statistics about the attrition rate among new teachers I'd say pride's a fairly powerful motivator.

For those with skill the accommodation has to be difficult.

Second is the importance of keeping the illusion that public education values teaching skill unpunctured. If the public understands that teaching skill isn't valued by the public education system then it's a very short, but inevitable, step to the realization that learning doesn't matter to the public education system either. That realization spells the end of the public education system.

mazenko said...

Pete, if you think students are like consumers, you are completed removed from the reality of the situation. You should never view teachers as sales people - because the students are not actively choosing to consume/purchase the product. Many are being asked to sit in and take classes against their wills. Even if they don't actively oppose it, many are ambivalent, choosing to sit as the path of least resistance against their parents and teachers - and even the law.

Students aren't customers for the product, and they certainly aren't workers. If teachers could simply fire any students not performing - or ask any student to leave his store for lack of interest in the product, you might be on to something. That can actually happen at private and charter schools. And that is the key to much achievement at those schools in struggling populations. Is that what you're proposing?

Your desire to apply market principles to a school system is indicative of the extreme naivete that blocks the average voter from presenting credible arguments on school reform.

As Winston Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

mazenko said...

D., have you not noticed the difference in the past decade. We've had standardized testing for more than half a century - to measure student ability.

Only recently have we changed to measure teaching ability - and you no that is imperfect. Only recently have we judged teachers by tests that students have by all accounts the right and the freedom to blow off. Only recently have we told schools they can lose accreditation if their students don't perform well. Only recently has Colorado passed a law that says 50% of a teacher evaluation must come from test scores - though there is no pressure on the kids to try and even my honors students will admit to not really trying. Only recently could teachers lose nonprobationary status if state tests scores lose ground - and this law was passed even as the state admits that the test is flawed and they don't even know what the new test will look like.

Yeah, I'd say things have changed. And people like Rhee are behind the change.

Darren said...

Are you now changing from "Rhee" to "people like Rhee"? Because she wasn't responsible for NCLB. President Bush and Ted Kennedy were. And John Kerry. And Senators Boxer, Feinstein, Kennedy, Clinton, Edwards, Reid, and Byrd.

There are definitely some attributes of NCLB I don't like, but there can be no argument that but that it *has* shined a spotlight on the dirty little secret in education, and that's the horrible state of inner city schools. It may not be the teachers' fault those schools are the way they are, but it *is* the taxpayers' money funding those schools.

If NCLB were causing the Atlanta cheating problem, wouldn't cheating be much more widespread? But it's not, so the problem is localized.

Darren said...

I forgot to add Congresswoman Pelosi to the list above.

Anonymous said...

I think that Michael is pretty much right, but the problem is that there is more to the story.

We can reasonably defend that (a) teachers have a pretty big influence over how much students learn AND that we should thus pay them well to attract/ keep good ones, or (b) teachers have relatively little influence in the long run [and the student's genes, parents, environment, culture, etc. are most important] ... but then the argument to pay teachers well to keep the good ones is substantially weakened. If the teachers don't/ can't have much impact, who cares if we get mediocre vs. good teachers?

I don't see how to argue both that teachers matter a great deal and also have little impact/ control over the learning.

I'm sure thar things are more nuanced, but I think this fairly accurately portrays the situation. What am *I* missing?

-Mark Roulo

allen (in Michigan) said...

What you're missing is that teachers employed by the public education system have had it both ways. Teaching skill is assumed to be very important in student attainment when it serves as a rationale for pay increases and teaching skill isn't important when it comes to measuring student attainments.

Hey, it's worked for quite a while

Ellen K said...

You can lead a kid to knowledge, but you can't make him think. Our district is embarking on Bring Your Own Technology, the irony being that the day before classes started every server was hit by a virus. Coincidence? I think not. So far, while they are working quietly in class, I'm not seeing stellar response. And as for using the access for deeper understanding, they don't seem to go much further than the first entry in Google.

Ellen K said...

Also, this is what I showed my AP kids on the first day for discussion.The discussions were interesting. And kids even showed their parents.....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2BLcv_9apI